Then and Now: How Home Construction has Changed

April 1, 2008

Besides building homes bigger, construction has evolved drastically over the last decade. Here are just a few ways:

  • Swankier modular construction. Forget thinking that modular homes are tacky, small, and amenity-free. Homes built mostly in a factory and completed on-site can be big, stylish, loaded with bells and whistles, and indistinguishable from stick-built houses.
  • Better energy efficiency. HVAC systems outfitted with furnaces that have computer-controlled chambers can sense outside temperatures and adjust interior heat or cold. More windows come standard with low-E glass and vinyl-clad rather than aluminum frames for better heating and cooling transfer. Also, roof insulation has more than doubled to R-38 or R-42 from R-19.
  • Greater severe weather tolerance. Houses used to be able to withstand 80- to 90-mile-per-hour winds, but with structural steel plates and rods and huge fastening systems, exterior walls now can hold them in place from the roof to the foundation footers during 120-mph storms. Metal roofs also are favored since they remain intact, unlike asphalt or fiberglass shingles that may crack.
  • Healthier materials. Anything that had contained toxic ingredients in the past—paint, carpeting, adhesive, stain, or glue — has been replaced with healthier variations. Many are water-based rather than oil-based, which also has driven down costs.
  • Changes in layouts. The dining room may still be alive and well, even if infrequently used, but more homes are built with a casual living space instead of a formal living room. Gaining popularity instead are first-floor master suites, gourmet kitchens, laundry and mud rooms, a shaft for a future elevator, wiring for a media center rather than a separate theater, and screened porches with the option of glass panes for three- or four-season use.
  • Greater detailing. Instead of spare spaces that often look cold, many builders now fashion warm, inviting interiors with carved cabinetry, crown and baseboard molding, and lavish paint finishes.
  • Radiant heat. No more surges of power to heat and cool, radiant tubing distributes heat evenly throughout a house, and can be controlled by a thermostat, and even zoned.
  • Synthetic decks and porches. Manmade materials — wood chips and plastic formed into boards — are replacing wood and pressure-treated wood to save trees, cut mildew and rot, eliminate poisonous materials leaking into the soil, and make outdoor living areas impervious to weather.
  • Smart wiring. With easier living a goal, improved technology now allows sprinklers, lights, audio-video systems, and security to be programmed from an office or any computer connection rather than flicked on and off at home.

Sources: Bryan Lendry, president, Brylend Homes Ltd, Jacksonville, Fla.; Orren Pickell, president, Orren Pickell, Designers & Builders, Lincolnshire, Ill.; Howie McArdle, McArdle Construction Inc., Stephentown, N.Y; Ahmed Abdelaziz, president and CEO, Omarica Home Builders, Oak Brook, Ill.


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